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Downers Grove North upsets Batavia football

Cullin Rokos of Batavia (45) and Brandon Salter (24) of Downers Grove North battle over a loose ball during their first-round playoff game Friday night in Batavia.
Cullin Rokos of Batavia (45) and Brandon Salter (24) of Downers Grove North battle over a loose ball during their first-round playoff game Friday night in Batavia.

BATAVIA – Zach Strittmatter figured he’d be returning to school this morning with the rest of his Batavia football teammates.

The Bulldogs would joke about exhaling with another first-round playoff victory, then begin watching film on their second-round opponent.

There’ll be no such get-together after Friday. Downers Grove North stunned the top-seeded Bulldogs, 38-26, to open the Class 7A postseason.

Naturally, the No. 8 Trojans (6-4) touted the strength of the West Suburban Conference Silver, while Batavia (9-1) reiterated it knew the visitors weren’t to be taken lightly.

“It’s hard right now, just all the emotion,” said Strittmatter, a senior receiver. “We work 12 months a year for this, and it’s gone in 48 minutes.”

Downers Grove North scored with 3:58 remaining in the game to create the final margin. Quarterback David Edwards bookended the scoring with touchdown runs, just one of a handful of effective ballcarriers in the team’s option attack.

Senior fullback Brandon Salter led the way with 19 carries for 216 yards, including two lengthy first-half touchdown runs on option dive plays.

“That [option] is kind of hard to tell,” said Bulldogs senior linebacker Cullin Rokos, who had a 31-yard fumble recovery touchdown. “You don’t know who has the ball, and sometimes you just catch someone guessing, I guess.”

Downers Grove North’s student section began chanting “OVER-RATED” after its first score, set up by a blocked punt on Batavia’s opening possession.

The Trojans heard the roars but couldn’t bring themselves to completely agree.

“This is a big boost for us. We’re really ecstatic. We knew we could do it,” Salter said. “They’re a great team, but I don’t know, we just really believed in ourselves and knew that we could pull it out.”

On Batavia’s final possession, Anthony Scaccia (13 carries, 151 yards) burst 55 yards to the Trojans 7, but the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs with 2:22 to go. Liam McKenna defended quarterback Micah Coffey’s fourth-down fade intended for Strittmatter, an integral part of Batavia’s recent run who had five receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns.

“[McKenna] tipped it up, and I tried to react quickly to the tip,” Strittmatter said. “He made a great play. Micah threw a great ball. I should have caught it.”

At halftime, several fans among the overflow home crowd referenced last year’s first-round game as precedent for a rally. With Batavia a No. 1 seed in the 6A draw, Niles Notre Dame grabbed a 28-7 lead at intermission before the Bulldogs stormed back, keying a run to the state semifinals.

Downers Grove North enjoyed just an 11-point head start this time, but its 24-13 halftime edge proved too much for Batavia to overcome. The Trojans forced four first-half turnovers – including two interceptions from Stephen Kanis.

Salter scored on runs of 55 and 84 yards in the game’s first 13:04, gashing the defense on the same play both times. Apart from a handful of jet sweeps, the Trojans’ option attack largely operated on the inside. By halftime, Salter had carried seven times for 147 yards.

The Bulldogs huddled with one another and visited with fans and coaches for several minutes after the game, winding down after a premature end to the season. Batavia finished the regular season 9-0 for the second straight fall while repeating as Upstate Eight Conference River Division champions.

“Let’s be honest here. Our kids didn’t play flat. They did not play flat,” Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron said. “They came here and battled and fought. It was a hard-hitting, good high school football game. [The Trojans] made some plays on us because they do have some skill and they’ve got ability just like we do. I think our kids are disappointed because they felt like they missed out on some plays that they could have made. That’s the thing that I think is frustrating.”

DG North    14    10    7    7     –    38
Batavia    7    6    6    7    –    26

D – Edwards 4 run (Jones kick), 10:44
B – Strittmatter 17 pass from Coffey (Albrecht kick), 6:38
D – Salter 55 run (Jones kick), 4:55
D – Salter 84 run (Jones kick), 10:56
B – Rokos 31 fumble return touchdown (kick failed), 8:59
D – Jones 31 field goal, 0:14
D – Olekanma 43 pass from Edwards (Jones kick), 10:08
B – Scaccia 2 run (conversion failed), 1:54
B – Strittmatter 21 pass from Coffey (Albrecht kick), 9:14
D – Edwards 15 run (Jones kick), 3:58

Downers Grove North: 19-216, Edwards 15-61, Leto 13-41, Cardamone 1-5. Batavia: Scaccia 13-151, Coffey 4-20, Thielk 2-3, Miller 1-0.
PASSING – Downers Grove North: Edwards 5-6-91-1-0. Batavia: Coffey 14-29-134-2-2.
RECEIVING – Downers Grove North: Olekanma 2-49, Leto 2-32, Lommatzsch 1-10. Batavia: Strittmatter 5-83, Moffatt 4-24, Scaccia 3-17, Mullins 1-6, Miller 1-4.

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